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The city by the lake: Marking time in Östersund

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Looking east to Östersund from the pedestrian bridge that links the city with Frösön Island. The boat moored by the shoreline is the MS Thomée (photo (c) hidden europe).


Östersund is the only town of any size in the Swedish province of Jämtland. It’s a planned community, created as a garrison town and commercial centre in the late 18th century. We stop off in this likeable community on the east shore of Lake Storsjön.

The rain sweeps across the main square, soaking the bales of hay left in one corner of the open piazza. The weather does not deter the kids who are busy playing and making dens in the hay. The square is dominated by a concert hall on one side, by the entrance of which is a delicate ensemble in bronze created by sculptor Thomas Qvarsebo in 1986. It was a commission to mark the bicentennial of the founding of the city of Östersund. Qvarsebo’s Kören (Choir) is a striking installation even in the rain.

This Swedish city in the outback is a warm and friendly place, a cultural haven with a dash of urban flair in a deeply rural area of Sweden. It may be far from the madding crowd, but Östersund oozes cosmopolitan style. Sushi bars, smart hair salons with foreign names like Noir and Wash and a lot of competitive baristas. With the rain, a number of families are sheltering at Wayne’s Coffee Shop on the square. “We love organic,” says the sign outside Wayne’s.

“You may think we are in the middle of nowhere,” says Per-Åke Wahlund, a local entrepreneur who had his fair share of global adventures before eventually returning to his native Östersund. “So many people have done what I did,” says Per-Åke. “They take off, see the world, but then eventually come back, bringing with them all sorts of good ideas.”

Among the many ideas that Per-Åke has brought to Östersund is the English pub. The Sir Winston occupies a prime spot at the top of the square. It’s not the only pub on the square though. Just a few steps down from Wayne’s is the Bishop’s Arms , part of a Swedish chain which cashes in on the pub idea. It promises “a warm and friendly welcome” in a slightly antique font that can been seen decorating the frontages of Victorianera pubs the length and breadth of Britain.

Bangers and mash or fish and chips are Bishop’s Arms staples, but not at mid-morning on a wet Saturday. The green-and-white polka dot chairs and tables, so popular on summer days with the pub’s clientele, stand in pools of water.

A planned city

The weather hasn’t entirely dampened the market spirit. There are the regular stalls with golden chanterelles and other mushrooms piled high, where Sami traders are keen to strike a deal.

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